I’m taking a little break from talking directly about my recording project and am going to share something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
Our current culture is absolutely infatuated with the experience. Think about it – it’s all about the next vacation, that fantastic concert, bumping into that celebrity, a better viewing/driving/listening experience… the list goes on. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter (dare I say it? even blogs!) teach us to focus on the great experiences and share those with others – even if the experience is simply what I had for breakfast! I think some of that can actually be good – it has moved us away from focusing only on stuff for the sake of stuff, but instead asks us what kind of memories the stuff can bring us. Memories aren’t bad – we’re learning we can’t take stuff with us where memories do stay with us, so that’s not all bad. It’s also not always good though, sometimes our experience comes at great cost to others and we justify injustices and treating people poorly because we deserve great experiences (often we do this unknowingly!).
I’d love to see another shift happen – a shift away from focusing just on the experience and more on the journey. I think experiences will always stand as chapter and turning points in our lives, but the journeys that take us to and from these points are so important. The journey is what makes the experience matter, and if we ignore or downplay the journey it has serious consequences. I wonder if a view which keeps the experiences at the forefront loses the ability to really discerne which experiences are good and right and which ones are selfish.
Let me make this a bit more tangible by saying something that may offend some people. Really charasmatic worship, at times, worries me. I absolutely believe in the power of God to show up and do miraculous things, and I absolutely think we all need to learn greater ways of abandoning ourselves to God and worshipping him with all of our being while we corporately worship. What worries me is that it’s become mostly about the experience. The emphasis that many worship leaders, recordings, DVDs, blogs and whatever else you might see or hear put on this powerful experience of meeting with God often neglect the journey. I think we need to encourage young people to meet with God in fresh and powerful ways, but I think we’ve neglected our heritage, forefathers and the teaching of scripture when we skip over the spiritual disciplines. (Disclaimer – I’m currently reading Fosters Celebration of Discipline with our small group, so that’s helping to shape some of these thoughts). A great worship experience is really easy to fake, and really easy for younger people to learn how to fake. Learning how to pray, meditate, enjoy silence, fast, and serve – those aren’t the same kind of sexy experience that a great time of worship can be. They are, however, amazingly helpful in learning who God is and surrendering yourself to him in worship.
Again, I’m not saying that the experience of meeting with God in worship is bad – quite on the contrary. I think it’s fantastic, but it needs to keep the whole journey in mind to keep from becoming fake. I worry that the church of today risk replacing the rewarding work of working out our faith in private and in community with an experience of powerful singing and an instant gratification of God’s presence. Maybe God wants us to work a little more for that experience sometimes?
Remember – I’m not saying being engaged is bad – quite on the contrary! Being well engaged and having a great experience should be the outworking of our journey, both individually and corporately. We just need to keep our priorities in line – the experience isn’t more important than the journey, the journey is what defines the experience. Mixing those up is dangerous.
I think the Bible backs this up too. Check out Amos 5:21-24 taken from the New Living Translation:
21 “I hate all your show and pretense-
the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
22 I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
23 Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
an endless river of righteous living.
I pray that we as believers would be able to avoid show and pretense, that we would be able to see the joys of great experiences in the context of the journey and life that make those experiences whole. I also pray that as I experience the journey of my life – filled with moments of frustration of fatherhood, sickness, stress, lack of faith, weakness, failure and most importantly, grace, I will continue to be thankful for every moment of it and what God is teaching me through all of it.